Heraclitus

December 29, 2016 (Nairobi, Kenya):

I started reading Dennis Sweet’s translation and analysis of Heraclitus. Heraclitus is the beginning for me; he is the originator of the philosophical usage of the term λóγος, and for that reason, I must start with him.

First, a taste of Heraclitus’s actual writings:

“Of this eternally existing logos people lack understanding, both before and after they hear the primary thing. For since everything comes to be according to this logos, they are like ignorant people when experiencing such words and actions as I expound – when I describe each according to its nature….”

“What is in opposition is in agreement, and the most beautiful harmony comes out of things in conflict (and all happens according to strife).”

“Wholes and non-wholes, being combing and differentiated, in accord and dissonant: unity is from everything and from everything is unity.”

“They know neither how to listen nor how to speak.”

“Those seeking gold dig much earth and discover little.”

“The order [κóσμος], the same for all, was made neither by gods nor by humans, but was always and is and will be fire ever-living – being lighted in measures and going out in measures.”

“The person who loves wisdom must be a good enquirer into a great many things.”

“You will not discover the limits of the soul by wandering, even if you travel every way – so deep is its logos.”

“Let us not randomly reckon about the greatest matters.”

“Listening not to me but rather to the logos it is wise to agree that all things are one.”

“The hidden harmony is superior to the visible.”

“A thunderbolt steers all these things.”

“One should see that war is common and justice is strife, and that everything is happening according to strife and necessity.”

“To be of sound mind is the greatest excellence and wisdom; to speak and act with truth, detecting things according to their nature.”

“All human laws are nourished by the divine one; it prevails as it will and suffices for all and overcomes.”

Second, some excerpts from Dennis Sweet’s commentary:

“The primary motive of Heraclitus’s metaphysics is the determination of structural unity in a world of apparent diversity and change…Wisdom consists in recognizing and attuning oneself to this unity.” (57)

“The word λóγος is the earmark of Heraclitus’s philosophy. He used it to denote the underlying unity in the apparent diversity and change in the world…Heraclitus employs the term to denote the universal order of the world as well as the mind’s capacity to rationally discern this order…Bearing all of these meanings in mind, it appears that the purpose behind Heraclitus’s adoption of the semantically rich λóγος is to emphasize that the structural order of the cosmos, the rational order of the mind, and our linguistic ability to communicate our thoughts to others all share a common feature. Each is an expression of the eternal λóγος.” (57-58)

“According to Heraclitus, the systematic structure of the world, the rational order of thought, and the meaningful structure of language…must all have something in common which accounts for their mutual correspondence and systematic coordination. This something is the λóγος – the universal order common to all things.” (58)

“The image of fire is used by Heraclitus to symbolize the λóγος…While the shapes and the appearances of a fire are always changing, the fire retains its unity over time….” (58)

“‘God’ is another name for λóγος – the divine law upon which all gods, humans, and human laws depend.” (59)

“It is only by understanding the nature of change that we are to grasp the unity and rational order of the cosmos, or the λóγος…According to Heraclitus, change occurs though the conflict and strife that arises when opposing forces interact.” (59)

“For Heraclitus, change is a universal process generated through opposition and strife. By understanding the essential interdependence and harmony of things in opposition, we may come to recognize the hidden harmony and underlying unity of these things.” (59)

“Ordinary people mistakenly treat the personal world of opinions and beliefs as the real world, and make judgements about things purely on the basis of such subjective and limited perspectives…The same point is made by comparing the limited perspective of the individual to the unlimited perspective of God, or λóγος: ‘for God all things are beautiful and good and just, but humans have supposed some things to be unjust, other things to be just….’ Heraclitus insists that whatever attitude we have at any given time is ultimately dependent upon what we regard as its opposite.” (62)

“In calling attention to the great variety of individual perspectives upon the world, their interrelationships, interdependencies, and the tendency of each to change, Heraclitus is suggesting that all such perspectives share a common dependence upon the λóγος – the underlying unity and ‘higher harmony’ implicit in this diversity. Wisdom involves overcoming the particularity and restriction of one’s own limited perspectives and recognizing the universality expressed in such attitudes. In other words, the wise person is the one who recognizes all the diverse perspectives are the perspectives of a self-identical rational soul – a subjective expression of the λóγος, which underlies and unifies these various perspectives through time.” (63)

“For Heraclitus, the person with wisdom understands the underlying, unitary structure of the λóγος and recognizes that “all is one”, despite the apparent diversity of particular things and particular perspectives. The wise person is not one who has learned many different things, but rather one who has inquired into many things and has come to know the order which is common to all of them…Heraclitus describes the wise person as one who is awake….” (64)

“Since natures tends to hide itself, the vast majority of people are ignorant of the rational structure of the world. Such people fail to see beyond their own limited, individual perspectives, and have no notion of the underlying unity and harmony of the cosmic order…they shut themselves off from the universal λóγος.” (65)

“The soul is regarded as the seat of rational thought. It is the subjective expression of the λóγος – the same λóγος expressed objectively in the cosmic structure and processes of the world. Wisdom involves the recognition of this sameness….” (67)

“Heraclitus characterizes the λóγος as ‘the father of all, the king of all, [who] has shown some as gods’…Both humans and gods share a common origin in, and dependence upon, the λóγος…traditional gods as intermediaries between the λóγος and humans. They are superior to humans; yet, like us, they are dependent upon the λóγος.” (68)

“Both the apparent regularities and the apparent exceptions are actually expressions of a deeper, more pervasive order – an order not expressible in terms of either, taken in isolation.” (70)

“Given our limited understanding of the true nature of reality, we sometimes encounter things we are unable to fully understand – things which seem to be incomprehensible in terms of the rules that govern the apparent order of nature. Yet, everything is actually subject to a single law, the λóγος, which is itself subject to no laws or limitations.” (70)

“Like the primary motivating principle underlying the cosmos, the primary motivating principle underlying a child’s playing a game is hidden in what appears to be disjointed and fragmented activities. Yet each is a case of self-determined, creative activity.” (71)

 

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